Roger writing the LAWmag

European Road Kill

Paris trafficCriminal negligence runs rampant in France, Switzerland and Italy. I know; I have the several close calls to prove it.

From the Arche de triomphe in Paris to Constantinopole's Arch in Roma, passing by the water fountain in Geneva, the traffic circles of Pisa and Venice's parking lot, the Eurodrivers know no fear ...

... of death ...

... or of the police.

Death, dismemberment or brain injury is always lurking and smirking given the man-made driving hazards.

The police?

Nowhere to be found, on highway or narrow cobble-stone horse-way (cars are allowed everywhere in Europe, regardless of all laws, including those of physics).

Tailgating is standard and is not a form of road rage. The most mild-mannered old man tailgates.

The typical distance is so close that the headlights of the tailgating vehicle often disappear under one's rear view window.

It's spooky but downright dangerous and especially disconcerting for the drivers attempting to respect the speed limit.

It further allows for reduced room to manoeuvre in the likely event of evasive action, such as the frequent highway slowdowns.

Turn signals are not used in Europe by anybody except for recently arrived tourists.

Cars jot in and out of traffic lines, in and out of streets or parking spots with no advance notice to surrounding vehicles except for what you can pick up from the vehicle's speed and trajectory.

This is especially dangerous for children pedestrians too young for the required level of life-preserving intuition.

Ambulance sirens have little effect on traffic.

Buses, scooters and cars take advantage of anybody trying to pull over at the hee-haw Euro-siren, to skidaddle through the opening, careless as to the ambulance's approach.

Pedestrian crossings are everywhere in Roma but they mean nothing to many drivers who pass drive through no matter if there is a mother pushing a baby carriage a few steps onto the lane; or someone stupid enough to put a hand out.

The only way across is - and this is no exaggeration - to slowly venture out essentially playing dare with the vehicles: to stop or run you over. Thankfully, for the brave, this usually brings traffic to a stop but not without menacing glares from drivers and honks from scooters who seem to say: "Look, I was coming through there".

Tongue-in-cheek on this deadly topic, one American "survivor" recently commented:

"In order to survive Italian traffic, simply put on a pair of dark sunglasses, and pay no attention to it. Never look both ways when you cross the street. Simply walk into the road, and let the cars and scooters swerve around you. If you hesitate, they will know you are American, and everyone knows that Americans are worth more points."

Rome scooter trafficScooters and motorcycles have their own de facto traffic code.

The level and prevalence of criminal negligence shown by this particular class of Eurodrivers clearly shows a culture of official law enforcement tolerance, in spite of the obvious hazard of these little engines running amok in busy city streets.

Near death experiences are a daily rite of passage for motorcycle and scooter drivers but they themselves deserve little pity.

No policy issue ought ever to be raised on the back of generalizations but in this case, it is not irresponsible to state that Eurodriving is shameful, from the dope running around Rome kamikaze style on a large Harley sporting a tiny Nazi helmet, to the young blond student in Milan, ponytail blowing in the wind behind her, who almost ran over a 9-year old when she drove down the sidewalk in front of the law school at high speed.

Young, old, women, men - they ignore traffic lines which in any event, are only painted in the approches to traffic lights, if even there.

Scooters jut in and out and always race down any opening between cars on driver or passenger side; in any event, to the front of their own lineup.

They have no qualms about jumping onto the sidewalk for a short 30kmh jaunt to a parking spot - and for that, anywhere on the sidewalk is fine, no matter how narrow or busy it may be.
Cars park on either side of the street, facing, or against traffic.

Such a policy of tolerance condones dangerous and reckless driving, Eurodrivers quick to race across a lane of traffic to nab a free parking spot.

It also makes determining whether or not a road is a one-way, judging only from the direction of parked cars, as good as a coin toss.
Speeding is expected.

Any attempt to drive on any road at the speed limit will last about 60 seconds, after which a couple of near rear-enders, and a few choice honks will press even the most timid of drivers to new speed glory.
At one busy city intersection in Mestre, Italy, a big old lady driving the car behind me must of thought I was driving too slow because at the next intersection, she started to not only swear at me but I saw her in my rear view mirror exit her car and start to walk towards me, gesticulating wildly.

As visions of the next day's headline in the local papers flashed before my eyes - "Canadian Ice Hockey Goon Arrested in Traffic Altercation With Old Local Woman" - the light turned green and que sera sera never sera-ed.
Fifty thousand people die in vehicle accidents in Europe each year; France, Germany and Italy accounting for half of that, proportionately much more than in the United Kingdom.
Statistics from the Italian ministry of health suggest that in the 30 years between 1969 and 1999, 300,000 people died in traffic accidents in Italy alone. That is roughly twice the number of military casualties Italy suffered in the Second World War.

The issue is clearly law enforcement.

For reasons that may have to do with evolution (as in "regression") of law, the French and Italians do not adequately enforce traffic laws.

Reckless driving on such a scale does not occur unless such driving has become part of the culture, where by the example of others and the lack of any threat of punishment, each driver takes the traffic law into his or her own hands.

Oddly, the streets and most public buildings in Rome are heavily policed by armed and sharply-dressed police.

Even the empty former imperial palace, the Quirinale, seems surrounded by polizia or carabiniere. They stand around in their sharp blue outfits, machine gun strapped across their chest or black revolver prominently on their right hip, once in a while to be seen checking someone's identification papers.

But out in traffic, they are nowhere to be found.

UN open letter re traffic deaths While they sleep and throw a few Euros at archaeological digs and castle renovations, they'd do well to show some political leadership and address the plague of a catastrophic disregard for the traffic code.

A full-page ad appeared in the Guardian newspaper on March 31st; an open letter to the United nations in which Jimmy Carter and others pleaded with the United Nations to address "the appalling toll of death and injury in road crashes" (see side image) The open letter cites 3,000 dying everyday in road crashes; one ever six seconds.

Road kill is not an international issue. It's a fixable issue within each country that has jurisdiction over traffic, and Europe is no "developing country".

The solution is simple. Three words; traffic law enforcement.

Meanwhile, road kill season remains open in Europe.


Posted in International Law, Personal Injury and Tort Law